I have never felt more privileged in my life. The combination of all of the things that have brought me to the place where I am today are amazing…I am truly blessed!
(That’s not to say I always do a good job of remembering this. During my darkest times, I remember – and often tell – one of my favorite stories from N Street Village: I was having a terrible day, and I ran into one of the homeless women I worked with at the time. I said, “Hi RuthAnn, how are you today?” And she responded: “Too blessed to be stressed!” My eyes welled up with tears, thinking that if she, with all of the burdens she was carrying, was able to say that she was blessed, who am I to ever complain about a bad day? “Too blessed to be stressed” has become somewhat of a mantra for my house this year as we remind each other that stress is something we create for ourselves when we forget all that we have to be thankful for.) So lately, in spite of many things that are weighing on me, I feel blessed. People have been asking me what I’m doing this summer, and each time I respond, I’m continually shocked by my answer: “Traveling a lot,” I say. “I’m going to Turkey, Greece, Ecuador, and Sweden.” Crazy, right?! Opportunities have arisen, and I’ve snatched them.
Every other year, the ISM does a study tour abroad – cost entirely covered, with the exception of some meals. This year, our trip was from May 7-18 to Turkey and Greece – two European countries I had never been to before! Schola Cantorum, one of the choirs I sing in, left four days early to perform a concert in Istanbul and a concert in Athens, so my trip totaled two full weeks. For a girl who’s used to month-long choir tours with Nordic Choir, I must say that it was a joy to travel again, even with such a large group (there were about 75 of us)! This trip was unique in many ways; it was the furthest East I’ve been and therefore the most I’ve experienced things like Greek Orthodoxy, Byzantine chant, and iconography. Here are a few highlights from the trip:
First, our concerts. We sang in two unbelievably different spaces. The first was a 4th century church in Istanbul – Hagia Irene. It was the first church built in Constantinople, but burned down and was rebuilt in the 6th century. We shared that concert with a Turkish Choir called Rezonans. They were pretty good and so kind. We enjoyed listening to them, singing with them on a couple of pieces, and joining in dinner and drinks after a long day of rehearsal. After a couple days in Istanbul, Schola – led by Simon Carrington – flew to Athens for our second concert. This concert was held at St. George’s Parish in Athens, where one of our ISM professors served as priest. The inside of this church was the exact opposite of the old barren walls of Hagia Irene. It was covered instead with beautiful modern icons. The acoustics let our sound ring, and the rest of the ISM arrived to Greece just in time to attend this concert. After having a couple of days off from singing (funny, right?), I was so excited to make music. I love when I remember how much I love doing what I’m doing. That night – the ISM’s first official night on the tour – after our concert, we were treated to an incredible Greek dinner. They kept bringing out small plates of delicious food (LAMB, YUM) and our glasses of wine were overflowing. Many of us proceeded to go out to a bar that night where we enjoyed each other’s company and danced the night away in the shadow of the Acropolis. No big deal.
The next day started off at the Parthenon, followed by the New Acropolis Museum and then the Temple of Zeus. It was so fascinating to see a city that is very much alive today living among the ruins of yore. Places that we, in America, only dream about are in their backyard. I must say, museums aren’t always my favorite way to learn. But two things that I did very much enjoy from Athens include hearing the Maistores Choir (Byzantine chant) and watching George Kordis, an unbelievable iconographer, demonstrate his work for us in his studio.
We moved on to Meteora for Monastery Day with a stop by Delphi. We visited 4 monasteries back to back, not minding all of the stairs we had to climb because the views held us captive. At the final monastery we visited, we were invited (after closing hour) to attend their Vespers service. Following that, the Abbott greeted us with snacks and gifts, and we thanked the community by singing Ubi Caritas by Durufle. Those beautiful monasteries, atop bizarre rock structures, were deeply spiritual places to me, even though the traditions were not my own. It’s amazing to visit a place where people, for so many centuries, have been seeking God. I think this was many people’s favorite day of the whole trip.
Next we were in Thessaloniki for many days. This felt like vacation. Did you know Thessaloniki is the #5 party city in the world? We were fortunate to have a lot of free time during our stay there, which we spent swimming, eating, and drinking. (Obviously we visited some incredible sites during our time there as well!)
The group flew back to Istanbul for the remainder of our trip. We were lucky to have a couple of stops at Universities in the area. It’s interesting to see the education systems of other countries. Istanbul, the largest city in Europe, spans both Europe and Asia – something I feel like I should’ve known, but didn’t before this trip. One of the weirdest afternoons in Istanbul was when many of us decided to take the ferry to Asia. We had about 40 minutes there, during which time we randomly visited a Conservatory of Music (we heard percussion and saw a sign with a cognate…we couldn’t resist!) and then stopped by a glamour booth and paid a couple dollars to have weird photos taken in weird costumes. Hilarious. We all decided Asia was pretty cool.
Other highlights from Istanbul include visiting the Spice Market, seeing the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, meeting and singing for the Patriarchate (Dumbledore?), and watching the Whirling Dervishes. Our trip ended with a dinner cruise on the Bosphorous, in case we weren’t already spoiled enough.
The two weeks were filled with all the things I hoped for, and by the end, I was content to return. (Many of my friends had extended their tickets to travel other places.) I’ve been enjoying a couple of weeks in New Haven as I prepare for the next thing!
On Friday, I leave for Tampa, Florida for 2 weeks. I didn’t include that in my original list because it doesn’t sound as cool as the other places, but I’m excited to be a part of the Professional Choral Institute. I’ll be doing lots of singing and conducting and networking! It’s requiring quite a bit of preparation, but I’m hoping it will be worth it. After that, it’s back to New Haven for one week before heading to Ecuador for a month! I’ll be attending a language school, trying – FINALLY – to learn Spanish. The ISM is splitting the cost with me, so it’s a pretty good opportunity. And finally, my summer will finish off with a conducting masterclass in Sweden! My colleagues and I have been asked to participate in a 9-day program (Aug 2-11) with Stefan Parkman in Uppsala, cost almost entirely covered. This will also require a ton of work, but boy is my rep list growing!
I am so thankful for the adventures that lie ahead. I must admit that I’m a little nervous that I’m not taking time to relax this summer, but I think I will be fed in different ways. Hopefully I’ll find time to do some blogging and share pictures. (If you want to browse through all of my photos from the Turkey/Greece trip, you can find them here.) I would love it if you all kept in touch – occasional messages from friends will help carry me through the mass amounts of alone time I’m about to face! Ah, alone time…another blessing in disguise! Ok, back to studying.